Five hundred and one years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, igniting the Reformation and a generations-long conflict between Lutherans and Catholics.
Today, a group of Minnesotans is hoping to help heal those divisions by employing the power of music.
The project began with two auspicious anniversaries. Last year marked five centuries since the beginning of the Reformation and 50 years since official dialogue opened between Lutherans and Catholics. To commemorate the juxtaposition of these two anniversaries, in October 2017, the National Lutheran Choir premiered The Holy Spirit Mass, by Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen.
The commission of the Mass was made possible by a gift from Minnesotans (and Lutherans) Gary Aamodt and his wife, Celia Ellingson. After the work's initial premiere in Washington, D.C., it was brought to both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The project captured the attention of the Vatican, which late last year expressed interest in hearing an encore performance in Italy. To make that dream a reality, a nonprofit was formed and named the Together in Hope Project.
The organization's beating heart belongs to its Together in Hope Choir, which consists of 64 of the Twin Cities' best singers (including Minnesota Public Radio's own Steve Staruch and his wife, Naomi). Both Catholics and Lutherans are well-represented among the choir's ranks.
Keeping with the project's cooperative and collaborative nature, there are two co-conductors: Teri Larson, music director at St. Mary's Basilica in Minneapolis, and Mark Stover, former faculty member at St. Olaf's.
"Our singers … get what this is about," write Aamodt and Ellingson via email from Italy, where they are preparing for the performances. "They understand we are not just bringing a choir to Rome to sing pretty music." Rather, the group views the purpose of the trip as one of reconciliation.
They intend to spread that message with conviction.
"We have seen and heard the difference in music when singers understand the message of the music. At a recent rehearsal, Mark Stover stopped the choir and said simply, 'I don't believe you.' With this challenge, the choir sang the same section a moment later and the meaning could not have been clearer."